Between Two Worlds

Based on George Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier, Juliette Binoche stars as an undercover journalist reporting on work instability and poverty in France. The first half of the film shows the realities of work on the tenuous end of the breadline in 21st century France, while the latter half of the film deals with the ethics of such an investigation.

I didn’t read The Road To Wigan Pier, but I did read Down and out in Paris and London, which had a similar premise. Orwell was an aristocrat’s son who committed to his socialist principles, and decided to work in the entry-level jobs open at the time. He hoped to expose the appalling conditions the working class endured. I suppose because it was long ago, and we know Orwell spent his life fully committed to those principles, we don’t question really the ethics of what he did.

But Juliette Binoche’s character really does bring the morality of it starkly to the fore. By setting it in the here and now, it actually reminded me more of something like Black Like Me, another book in which a white Northerner went undercover as a Black American in the South during segregation. That books attracts a lot more scrutiny, and for good reason. It begs the question of Binoche’s character, why do we need the middle-class to translate the working-class experience? Why do we need her to expose it? It is already here for anyone to see. And when she justifies it by saying she wants to raise awareness of it as an issue, you just want to ask, are people really unaware of the fact folk are broke? Or is the issue that all the people with the power to change it don’t give a fuck?

After all, the journalist walks away at the end of the day with a best-selling book, reaping the rewards of purveying a look at these people’s poverty, and the people themselves go right back to work every day, scrubbing shit off toilets and stripping beds. What money do they see off their story? A story they could easily tell for themselves if they weren’t busy being exploited all fucking day.

The character you feel sorriest for is Christele, who doesn’t have much, living hand to mouth to feed her kids, but who feels like she’s finally found a friend. Of course, that turns out to be bullshit too, and ends in disappointment as so much in her life has.

An interesting look at journalist ethics and class in today’s France.